Protesting the Portrayal of Catholics in Media

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By: Tommy Schacht, Yale

I have a guilty pleasure show. The show is called Lucifer. It is a drama in which the Prince of Hell gets bored and ceases to punish the damned in favor of being a nightclub owner in Los Angeles, all the while occasionally solving crimes for the LAPD. Obviously not the most intellectually stimulating show, but it’s a cinematic cigarette: I know it’s not good for me, but I enjoy it anyways. For a show where the Devil (and God), definitively exist and interact with the world, there’s a surprising lack of believers. There is one regular character, Ella Lopez, who’s introduced as a Christian (much to the consternation of the Lord of the Damned), but even she loses her faith over the course of the show. 

I bring Ms. Lopez up because she is an example of how the American media has a problem with depicting Christians. She represents one version of this problem: the designated Christian. This character is a Christian merely because it adds interesting flavor. Now, it may be because most writers are secular liberals, but these people behave an awful lot like non-believers. All of the tough questions about God are asked: why does evil exist? Why does suffering? How can a good God send people to Hell? Anyone who has even explored their faith has asked these questions. They have the products of years of inquiry to fall back on. However, the designated Christian has no response to the atheist. All that is ever given is some handwave about “faith.” I of course am denigrating neither those who doubt nor the importance of trust in Divine Providence. However, Ms. Lopez is clearly written by someone with little exposure or understanding of faithful Christians. They basically follow the path of the atheist, but take the last exit before coming to the conclusion of denial. It is understandable given the experience of most writers, but it does not do my faith justice. 

Despite the Designated Christian being distasteful, it pales in comparison to the far more reprehensible depiction of Christians in the media: the Idiot Bigot. The Idiot Bigot is a staple trope of American media. These Christians can come in many forms, but none of them are sympathetic or likable. They are often religious out of indoctrination, and are easy prey to the most basic philosophical inquiries of the protagonists. One can expect that the beliefs of these Christians can be easily disproved (probably by using one of the above questions), much to the enjoyment of the audience, They are invariably holier-than-thou, despite a complete lack of holiness on their part. They may even be exposed as hypocrites engaging in the very sin they denounce. I do not mean to belabor the point, but these Christians are either idiots, evil, hypocrites, or some combination of the three. 

The very fact that Christians fit into easily recognizable archetypes is indicative of the larger problem. In the real world, faith is woven into the pattern of everyday life. Countless people exist seeking God and living His commandments day-to-day, however imperfectly. In the media however, Christianity is poorly understood, and even more poorly depicted. Christianity, especially Catholicism, is oftentimes looted of its aesthetic trappings; after all, this is the most common touchpoint for secular Americans. For shows like The Warrior Nun, it provides a ready made mythology, a funhouse-mirror Christianity that is familiar and comprehensible to viewers while making a mockery of actual teaching. And there is no easier way to depict a character going through emotional anguish than for them to point their fist at the sky and say, “Why, God?” In short, Christianity serves as a set of easily digestible reference points, used by creators with little regard for the accuracy of their portrayal. 

The problems that arise from these depictions are manifold. The first is that it is difficult for the large segment of the American population who are Christian. We all want figures in our media who we can relate to. We also want role models, people we can look to as worthy of emulation. If there are few depictions of faithful Christians in the media, it makes emulation that much more difficult. The second problem is that people mistakenly believe that these are accurate depictions of Christianity. And why would they not? In an increasingly secular age, they have few other reference points available to them. When the vast majority of explicitly Christian characters in media are either morally depraved or fooling themselves, then of course audiences will take normal Christians to be doing the same. We should want our faith depicted seriously because we want it to be taken seriously.

I am tired. I am tired of my faith being depicted as the realm of people too stupid to deny God. I am tired of my faith being depicted as a bunch of ass-backwards hicks or self-righteous suburbanites. My faith is not an HOA. My faith is not a question unanswered. The fact that the most positive depiction in a movie I can hope for is some wise, old person who will most likely be killed off is ridiculous. (This is not to say there are no good depictions of Christians in the media; Pres. Bartlett from the West Wing comes to mind). I would just really love a depiction of Christians as I know them to exist, and to whom I can relate. Give me a character for whom God is a certainty, not a perhaps. Give me a character (under the age of 70) who is genuinely trying to follow the will of God, and who has a relationship with Him. I know dozens of people in real life who meet these criteria; it is baffling to me that I know but a handful on the screen. 

Edited By: Ariel Hobbs

4 Responses

  1. No where this is the word Catholic used it says Christian not Catholic. Christian’s are follower`s of Jesus Christ they make up of communities like Orthodox Christians, Protestants, Coptic Christians and so forth. The title doesn’t match the write up. America left hate The Christian faith there is no doubt about that, what we see are young people who have left there religions because they don’t believe in there former religion anymore. I was Baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church and had left the Roman Catholic Church because that wasn’t what was helping me anyway, plus not raised in your Church didn’t interest what so ever.

  2. I agree. I was recently binge watching HOUSE ,a series in which all the main characters are atheists, even the doctor who went to seminary. Apparently someone pointing out that suffering exists was enough to make him drop his faith like a hot potato. What is frustrating is that important questions are asked but no one makes the slightest effort to answer them. A real cop out. Why not at least try to go there?

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